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Forest rangers protect Vietnam’s natural beauty



When a behemoth gaur, also known as an Indian Bison, was found caught in a trap, Cat Tien forest rangers immediately went into action and drew up a plan to rescue the animal.

It was one of the most memorable experiences for forest rangers working at Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai Province, located in southern Vietnam, according to Huynh Van Trung, deputy head of the forest ranger unit, who directly commanded the rescue.

Five years ago, Trung got an urgent call from his colleagues.

“We’ve found a trapped gaur. It’s too ferocious, and we cannot approach it,” his colleagues told him from the scene.

The gaur is a large wild cattle species that is native to Southeast Asia. They are currently considered a vulnerable species, having gone extinct in Sri Lanka already.

Trung coordinated with other rangers to come with him, 5km from the office. Before leaving, he brought along water, an anesthesia syringe and some tools to deconstruct the trap.

However, these supplies proved incapable of helping the trapped animal.

“The gaur was too big and violent,” he recounted.

“It weighed nearly a metric ton.

“We had to stand 30 meters away while trying to find another solution, worrying it might attack us.”

They decided to administer the anesthetic and give water to the gaur to make the trapped animal more comfortable while waiting for support from Dong Nai Province’s Forest Ranger Department.

Suddenly, the gaur jerked off the cable tied around its limbs.

Seeing the animal escape, the rangers ran and climbed up nearby trees. The gaur howled furiously and ran around. Seeing no one, it ran into the woods.

“The one-in-a-blue-moon rescue took place from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm,” Tung recalled.

“Luckily, no one got hurt.”

Breathtaking rescues

Trung said the forest ranger force at Cat Tien National Park was in charge of managing and protecting the woods as well as preventing loggers from chopping trees and hunting wild animals. 

Rescuing trapped animals becomes an inevitable part of their job.

Because of their remote location, there is usually no cellphone service and it takes a long time for rescue teams to arrive.

While rescuers are on their way, rangers will have to provide first aid to wounded animals.

It is simple to deal with deer, pangolins, birds or other ‘gentle’ animals since even in panic, they are not likely to hurt humans, according to Trung.

“For those dangerous ones, gaurs or boars in particular, they always fight back as a kind of self-protection mechanism,” he said.

“Once free from the trap, they immediately attack us.

“For wounded cobras, how dare we take care of them?”

The forest ranger said giving wild animals treatment and rehabilitation before releasing them back into the wild is not simple.

They are not equipped with anesthesia guns and bellows, whereas syringes often do not work with thick-skinned, furious animals.

Any animal has its own safe distance, it might run or otherwise, attack humans for self-defense, according to Trung.

He said with an attempt to escape, trapped animals always hurt themselves, causing serious wounds.

“Once they defend, forest rangers will be in danger,” he said.

“Those who set traps only think of how to catch the animals alive to sell them at higher prices.

“We have seized several types of hand-made traps and guns ever since.

“Those [animals] which were lucky could be rescued overnight.

“Most of them are small animals.”

He expressed the hope to be equipped with proper tools to save wild animals.

“In the best scenario, we can stand up to 40 meters away from the animal while giving it an anesthetic dose,” Trung explained.

“Vets then will be able to feed it and provide first aid before transferring it to Dong Nai Province or Ho Chi Minh City for examination, based on its conditions.”

Hand-made traps seized by Cat Tien Forest Ranger Department. Photo: Kim Ut / Tuoi Tre

Handmade traps seized by the Cat Tien forest ranger department. Photo: Kim Ut / Tuoi Tre

Existing challenges

Nguyen The Viet, deputy director of Cat Tien National Park Center for Rescue and Conservation of Species, said they receive some 200 animals of 20 species each year.

“One-third of them are saved by forest rangers. The rest are handed over by local residents or other centers,” he said.

On the post-rescue process, Viet said they have to check on the animals’ health conditions, whether they are saved in the woods or from cages before prescribing treatments.

When fully recovering, such animals will be brought to a larger cage surrounded by the forest to get used to the new environment and learn to find food.

Before being released, any animal will be checked and monitored in 21 days to make sure it does not have any infectious disease that can spread to healthy peers in the woods.

Areas for release are decided based upon the distribution of species.

More than two decades working in the field, Viet said they have had to face two main challenges, a limited budget and lack of experts.

Expenses for rescuing wild animals are enormous, from the construction of cages to transportation and treatments.

Besides all that, it also requires the vets to take care of the animals to have extensive expertise.

The center was established in 2015 with 30 workers.

In 2020, it rescued and received 154 animals.

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Vietnamese fisherman scoops ‘heaven’s fortune’ from bottom of Mekong Delta river



For Lam Van Hoang, a fisherman from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta province of An Giang who makes his catches by diving into local waterways, the region’s depleting fish populations are too precious to be wasted.

Hoang, the fourth-generation diving fisherman in his family, is known in his hometown of Pho Ba Islet in Long Xuyen City as Ba Hoang, or Hoang the Otter, thanks to the abundant fishing experience he has built up over the years.

Fishy dedication

On a typical working day, the 54-year-old angler spends hours plunging into local waterways with just a diving rope wrapped around his body and an air hose between his teeth.

Hoang begins each fishing session by dragging his ‘chai’ – a type of fishing net popular in the Mekong Delta – through the water while his wife holds the other end of the hose aboard a sampan and helps him pull the net.   

Hoang’s father, Ba Lung, is a seasoned diving fisherman credited with being the first on the islet to build an apparatus for diving.

It is also his father that Pho Ba Islet is named for, after the man migrated to the area from Phnom Penh, Cambodia and began to earn his living by diving for fish.

Lam Van Hoang receives tempting offers from traders for his lucky catch, a ca tra dau (Mekong giant catfish), in this supplied photo.

Lam Van Hoang receives tempting offers from traders for his lucky catch, a ca tra dau (Mekong giant catfish), in this supplied photo.

Hoang began accompanying his father on fishing trips when he was just a child, eventually becoming so engaged in the work that he began taking fishing trips of his own. 

Nowadays, he is known throughout the region for his unmatched diving skills.

“No one can dive as deep as me and bring in as many giant fish as I do,” he said.

Hoang is such an adept fishmen that the he can tell with ease which fishing grounds will bring in the biggest fish on any given day.  

“I can catch giant fish with just two tries. Most of the others can only bring in a small batch after casting their nets 10 more times,” he explained.

Pointing to a cast net placed in a corner at his home, Hoang shared that it trapped a ca ho (Giant barb) in the Hau (Back) River five years ago.

“I groped for the giant trapped in my net while diving with eyes closed. It was so strong that I thought I was facing a crocodile or a spiky ca tra dau gai [Mekong giant catfish],” he recalled.   

Hoang managed to pull the 40-kilogram river monster ashore after a strenuous battle and help from three other people. He was able to sell the fish to a nearby restaurant for VND750,000 (US$32) a kilogram.

Hoang and his wife are constantly on the lookout for new fishing grounds in neighboring provinces, including Dong Thap, Long An, Vinh Long and Soc Trang, with many of their trips lasting anywhere from several days to a few months.

Years ago, the couple would cast their nets twice a day, with Hoang diving 20 to 70 meters down for 15 minutes to two hours depending on how highly populated the fishing area was.

During such times, he began to develop a reputation in the community for the massive fish he was bringing in.

On one particular trip to Moc Hoa District in Long An Province, Hoang caught four ca bong lau (Pangasius krempfi, a type of catfish), each of which weighed more than 10kg.

He also caught a 19.5-kilogram ca ngat (Gray eel-catfish) in Soc Trang Province.

According to Hoang, much of his success comes from truly understanding various fishing grounds throughout the Mekong Delta region.

“Fish typically build nests in the center of rivers. I usually take a dive and cast a net around the nests and pull them ashore,” he shared.

“There’s no room for errors, otherwise the schools can slip away.”

Hoang added that he uses a special method to distinguish between different kinds of fish while diving with his eyes closed.  

Ca suu [Smallscale croaker] and ca coc [Soldier river barb] make distinctive sounds while ca tra [Shutchi catfish] has a long torso and flat head and ca vo [Giant pangasius] has a short torso with a small tail,” he said.

“Many don’t believe that I know what the fish are until I prove them wrong after hauling in the nets.”

The good old days

Now that Hoang is in his mid 50s, he believes the days of diving 100 meters below the surface or hauling in two catches a day are long gone.

A ca ho (Giant barb), which weighed nearly 40 kilograms got tangled in Lam Van Hoang’s net five years ago, is seen in this supplied photo

A ca ho (Giant barb), which weighed nearly 40 kilograms, got tangled in Lam Van Hoang’s net five years ago.

He has seen dwindling catches in recent years due to overfishing and a failure to protect young populations of fish and promote their reproduction.

According to Hoang, his daily income fluctuates greatly depending on his luck.

“Ten years ago, fishing was a boon. We usually ended up with big catches and could easily pocket VND10 million [$430] or more each catch.”

Now, he is lucky to bring in four or five kilograms each day, earning him just VND200,000-400,000 ($9-17), barely enough for him, his wife, and their two grandchildren to get by.

Despite his passion for fishing, he has asked his two sons not to follow in his footsteps. 

“My younger son can earn around VND1 million [$43] each day, much more than what we do now,” he said.

Hoang added his younger brother, also a professional diving angler, dives for shipwrecks.

Accidents have been few and far between during his decades on the job. 

“I always dive alongside the opening of the net and rise to the surface immediately if I sense that something is wrong,” the man said.

Despite the difficulties of the work, Hoang has no intention of quitting anytime soon.

His wife, 53-year-old Bui Thi Dam, supports his decision to keep going and plans to keep joining her husband on his fishing trips.

“It’s really hard work, especially for women like me, but we’ll keep trying,” she shared.

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From seashells come stunning creations




IN BUSINESS: Hiếu now runs a small shop of her own in HCM City’s District 1. Photo Tranh Đá Quý Của Hiếu Facebook

By Lương Thu Hương

The idea of giving seashells a second life first came to Trần Thị Ngọc Hiếu after she had a bloody experience one day on a beach, when a rather sharp shell pierced the skin on the sole of her foot.

She has made over 1,000 different products from seashells since that fateful day, ranging from paintings and jewellery to frames and other ornamental items.

The 36-year-old had already been making paintings from gemstones and was running a small business of her own, Tranh Đá Quý Của Hiếu (Hiếu’s Gemstone Paintings). Life threw up a challenge for her early on, with her feet and one of her hands being semi-paralysed after she caught a fever at the age of three.

Hiếu said she learned her profession after taking a risk and travelling to HCM City by herself without letting her family in the southern province of Đồng Nai know of her decision.

ONE OF A KIND: Seashell paintings like this are unique, with no two being alike. Photo Tranh Đá Quý Của Hiếu Facebook

By the end of 2014, after a successful endeavour making seashell paintings with a British businessman, she decided this was the path to follow.

Every product she makes is unique, with no two being alike. Whether the seashells are still in their original shape or have broken edges, she knows exactly where to place them in her art works.

“Most of my ideas come to me as I look at the shells I have,” she explained. “It takes me only two or three hours to finish a simple product, but it can take up to two days to finish something a little more sophisticated.

“Việt Nam has many species of sea creatures and shells are easy to find all along its coastline. I actually buy shells from various sources and have been given some as gifts by family and friends.

“I hope that when people look at my creations, they will think about protecting the environment and cherish what nature has bestowed upon us.”

NATURAL BEAUTY: Ornamental bottles decorated with seashells count among Hiếu’s many creations. Photo Tranh Đá Quý Của Hiếu Facebook

The process of creating a final art work includes classifying the shells into different shapes and sizes and types, coming up with an idea, and then attaching the shells to a backing platform of some description.

“The techniques are similar to those I’ve used in creating gemstone paintings,” she said.

“But the difficulty is the limited colours of seashells and how to use glue in a way that doesn’t change their original shade.”

Though the ideas and colours are limited compared to gemstone paintings, her seashell creations attract many customers who are charmed by their original colour and simplicity, she said.

After many years watching Hiếu’s journey from learning how to make paintings from gemstones to doing likewise with seashells, Lê Tuyết, a journalist of Lao Động (Labour) newspaper, said Hiếu is constantly optimistic, cheerful, and dedicated to her work.

“She has never viewed what happened to her feet and hands as misfortune,” Tuyết said. “Rather, she accepted it, has led a happy life, and believes it to be a driving force in creating meaningful things.

“She always thinks about the environment, urging people to pay more attention to it and to cherish objects from the sea through her unique seashell products.”

After making seashell products for over six years, Hiếu recently had the chance to open a small shop of her own in HCM City’s District 1. Her husband, who is also handicapped, decided to quit his job and wholeheartedly support his wife in her endeavour.

“She has been extremely dedicated to the shop, managing everything from decorating to coming up with ideas for products,” he said. “I only help her with work requiring some degree of strength, like pounding shells or delivering products, while also taking care of our daughter so she can focus on her work.”

Like so many other businesses, Hiếu’s has also been hit by falling customer numbers, especially foreigners, because of COVID-19.

“But it’s given me more time to be creative and perfect my products, so that customers can better appreciate them,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re disadvantaged or not, everyone has their own difficulties. What matters is whether you keep your determination and never give up. Success will finally come your way with such an attitude.”

She revealed that she expected her shop would become a rendezvous for others who are handicapped and planned to open an exhibition showcasing her creations as soon as the pandemic is controlled.

“I’m now focusing my efforts on creating even more beautiful products from seashells,” she said.  VNS


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Time to look at Tết’s growing footprint




Illustration by Trịnh Lập

 The recent Lunar New Year marked the end of the Year of the Rat and everyone was looking forward to the Year of the Buffalo (which fell on February 12 this year) with high hopes for better times.

Every family had a lot to do in preparing to welcome in the New Year, and the week-long process was exhausting, taking up a lot of what was the longest holiday of the year.

Given that most families decided to stay home due to the recent COVID outbreak, everyone had been preparing for Tết (the Lunar New Year festival) since the first Tết-related ceremonial offering on the 23rd day of the last lunar month. This meant at least 10 days of just festivities and the preparations involved.

Because of how demanding the workload can be preparing for Tết, some families looked forward to getting away to escape from the mundanity of it all. Modern families sometimes do the minimum in terms of ceremonial offerings and escape to a sunny place to relax.

One common tradition is the burning of joss paper as a way to send money and goods to the ancestors or relatives in the afterlife. One group, it seems, went to sleep while burning joss paper to farewell the Kitchen Gods, and when their house caught fire they perished in the ashes.

Apart from such upsetting fire hazards, burning votive offerings also has a serious environmental impact, affecting not only respiratory systems but also emitting harmful gases. The more one wants to send to the ancestors, the longer the burning takes and the greater the impact.

Another beautiful tradition — buying festive trees for Tết — also comes with environmental issues. Besides cherry blossoms and kumquat trees, many other flowers are sold to beautify and brighten up the home with new spring energy.

Many farmers spend long periods ensuring they can sell their most beautiful branches and earn a profit. But as I passed by deserted flower markets during Tết, many trees and plants were still on site, wasting not only the efforts of the farmers and the natural resources involved but also creating yet more waste to be disposed of post-Tết. And since flowers only bloom once, those that are bought are also discarded as soon as the holiday ends, adding yet more waste.

The Western tradition of buying pine trees for Christmas has also been criticised for its negative environmental impact, so some people have begun to replace real trees with DIY trees made from recycled materials, which can still bring a festive feeling to the home. Such thinking is yet to reach Việt Nam, and it’s hard to imagine a time when alternatives to festive trees are widely accepted.

The third negative element is the amount of food and food waste created. Some blindly follow tradition, with many glutinous rice cakes made and whole chickens boiled. Since every family prepares the same feast, one can’t help but get sick of eating the same dishes at least six times throughout Tết. After those festive days comes the pressing issue of food waste, with no one working towards getting leftover food to those who really need it.

The making of ceremonial offerings is an arduous task. Traditionally, as the official Tết holiday covers four days, including New Year’s Eve and the first three days of the New Year, each day includes at least one ceremonial offering. These include one to farewell the passing year and another to celebrate the coming year, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and the last one on the third day to mark the ending of Tết. Add to that the one on the 23rd day of the last lunar month.

Since each feast includes multiple dishes, preparations can run throughout Tết, which is supposed to be a time of rest and bonding with families and friends. Of course, people nowadays no longer conform to every single ceremonial offering, but this still creates externalities like incense production and smoke that does damage when inhaled.

Keeping traditional values is important, as respecting the ancestors is ingrained into Vietnamese values, mindsets and culture. But where can we draw the line between old and new traditions and treat them with due respect? How can we maintain a festive atmosphere while everyone is constantly concerned about preparations? Perhaps the younger generation may invent a new type of eco-friendly incense in the near future, or DIY cherry blossom trees could become the norm. VNS


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